Rediscovering God in America
by Newt Gingrich
(Integrity Publishers, 159 pages, $14.99)
“There is no attack on American culture more destructive and more historically dishonest than the secular Left’s relentless effort to drive God out of America’s public square.”
So writes former Speaker of the House, and possible Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich, in his powerful new book, Rediscovering God in America. Rediscovering God is a brief but persuasive rebuttal to those who would erase all mention of God and religion from public life in the United States. I highly recommend the book to religious and non-religious people alike, who are interested in learning more about the central role played by religion in American history.
Rediscovering God begins with an introductory essay in which Gingrich lays out his case that American history and culture cannot be understood without an appreciation for the nation’s distinctly religious character and heritage. Gingrich emphasizes the oft-forgotten points that many early Americans came to this country seeking religious freedom and that the religious revival known as the First Great Awakening (1730s to 1770s) directly influenced the independence movement that led to the American Revolution. Gingrich then quotes numerous Founding Fathers, including George Washington, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and others, who all believed that a republican form of government could not succeed without (in Adams’ words) “a moral and religious people.” While contemporary scholars have attempted to portray the Founding Fathers, especially Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, as skeptics and/or atheists, in just a few short pages Gingrich demonstrates that projecting such modern attitudes onto these men, let alone onto the American people as a whole, is “historically dishonest.”
Following the introduction, Gingrich organizes his book around a “walking tour” of the most important monuments, buildings, and landmarks in Washington, D.C. He starts at the National Archives, where the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are housed. He then moves on to the Washington Monument, the Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt Memorials, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Capitol and Supreme Court buildings, the White House, the Library of Congress, the Ronald Reagan Building, the World War Two Memorial, and Arlington National Cemetery. Each chapter includes an account of the history of the location; a description of the religious words, symbols, and imagery found there; and a discussion of the role that religion played in the life of the great men and women who are memorialized there. The format of the book is creative, accessible, and compelling.
I most enjoyed the chapters on the Lincoln and Roosevelt Memorials. Lincoln’s deep religiosity is well known, and pervades his public and private acts as President. As Gingrich points out, the Lincoln Memorial reflects our 16th President’s profound faith. Inscribed on the interior walls of the memorial are the Gettysburg Address, in which Lincoln famously proclaimed “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom,” and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, which, Gingrich notes, mentions God fourteen times and quotes the Bible twice. These two great speeches, arguably Lincoln’s most important words as President, say as much about the religious character of the American people, whose commitment to freedom and justice has been inspired from the very beginning by the Old and New Testaments, as they do about Lincoln himself. The radical secularists’ ostrich-like denial of this historical and cultural reality cannot withstand scrutiny.
Unlike the Lincoln Memorial (and the other stops on Gingrich’s tour), the memorial for Franklin Delano Roosevelt is noteworthy for its lack of religious content. This is hardly surprising, given that the memorial was designed in 1978 and completed in 1997. In his chapter on the memorial, however, Gingrich convincingly demonstrates, using FDR’s own words, that God and religion were central to FDR’s leadership as President. For someone, like myself, who was educated in the post-1960s era of secular “multiculturalism,” FDR’s words are striking.
For example, in a national radio address on May 27, 1941, FDR declared a state of “unlimited national emergency” and described the “Nazi world” as one that “does not recognize any God except Hitler . . . as ruthless as the Communists in the denial of God . . . where moral standards are measured by treachery and bribery.” FDR further explained that the world was heading towards a global conflict “between human slavery and human freedom — between pagan brutality and the Christian ideal.” The United States, he declared, would stand on the side of “human freedom — which is the Christian ideal.” In another radio address on October 27, 1941, FDR described the Nazi plan to “abolish all existing religions” and to replace “the cross of Christ” with the swastika and the sword. He concluded with a pledge that “We stand ready in defense of our nation and the faith of our fathers to do what God has given us the power to see as our full duty.” Similarly, on the occasion of the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944, FDR led the American people in prayer: “Almighty God, our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.” Again, as with Lincoln, FDR’s words reflect more than merely his own personal beliefs; they reflect the beliefs of the American people — who were inspired by God and their (overwhelmingly) Christian faith to win the most terrible war in human history.
The ignorance, and petulance, of the secular Left can be seen in the Publishers Weekly review of Rediscovering God. (I am not aware that any of the major newspapers has reviewed the book — another example of the secular Left’s intellectual intolerance.) The review criticizes the book for its “predictable” and “tired” arguments, which the author of the review finds “essentially unpersuasive.” What can this mean? Does the author question the accuracy of Gingrich’s historical evidence? No. Rather, the author challenges Gingrich’s basic thesis — that God and religion have played a central role in American history and culture — by pointing to, yes, Jefferson and Franklin, and arguing that the Founding Fathers “believed religion should have little, if any, role in the nation’s government.” This is an intentionally ambiguous phrase, because it allows the author the elide the crucial distinction between the Founding Father’s belief that there should be no “established” (i.e., official) church in the nation, and their patent support for religious expression in public life. Indeed, one of the very first acts of Congress was to pass legislation providing for House and Senate chaplains.
But the points raised in the Publishers Weekly review do highlight a few weaknesses in Gingrich’s book. First, Gingrich should have included a chapter on the First Amendment in which he addressed the now-familiar concept of a “wall of separation between church and state.” This phrase, of course, is not found in the First Amendment, but comes from a letter that Jefferson wrote in 1802 to the Baptist Association of Danbury, Connecticut. Moreover, this concept did not become a touchstone of constitutional law until after World War Two, when it was cited by the U.S. Supreme Court in Everson v. Board of Education (1947).
There is considerable scholarship demonstrating that neither the phrase nor its usage by the courts faithfully reflects the meaning or intent of the First Amendment, which states, in relevant part, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” On any fair reading of history, the First Amendment has been twisted by the courts to serve the secular Left’s political agenda to remove all mention of God and religion — especially Christianity — from public life.
For example, federal courts in New York have ruled that, during the “winter holiday season,” it is acceptable to display the religious symbols of Judaism and Islam, e.g., the menorah and the star and crescent, in New York City public schools, but not a nativity scene. The menorah symbolizes the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah and the Maccabees’ miraculous defeat of the Greek-Syrian occupiers circa 165 B.C. and the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem (with the sacramental oil that miraculously burned for eight days) in the exact same way that the nativity scene symbolizes Christmas and the miraculous birth of Jesus. The Islamic star and crescent, of course, is the very equivalent of “the cross of Christ.” Despite the courts’ legal legerdemain, nothing in the First Amendment supports, let alone compels, such unfair treatment. While dressed up as concern for minority rights and “feelings,” this is pure anti-Christian bigotry in the service of the secular Left’s larger anti-religion agenda. In Rediscovering God, Gingrich sharply criticizes the courts for this naked power grab, but he could have done a better job of explaining to his readers the true meaning of the First Amendment and why the very concept of a “wall of separation between church and state” is fallacious.
I also believe that Rediscovering God should have been longer. Although most books about history and politics tend to be too long, with verbose writing, redundant arguments, and unnecessary details, Rediscovering God suffers from just the opposite defect. Gingrich offers several tantalizing examples of the religious beliefs that motivated and sustained men like Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan (our four most important presidents), but his biographical sketches are much too short and should have been fleshed out with additional personal and historical information. In my opinion, a few more pages devoted to each chapter would have gone a long way toward driving home Gingrich’s message. Additionally, a brief bibliography with suggestions for further reading would have transformed the book from a simple “walking tour” of Washington, D.C., into a gateway for learning about the central role of religion in American history. This was a missed opportunity.
These minor criticisms, however, are not meant to detract from the excellence of Gingrich’s book. Rediscovering God is a marvelous work, grounded in history, marked by a force and clarity of expression, and suffused with patriotism. Sean Hannity is quoted on the jacket cover as saying that the book deepened his own faith. I am not a believer myself, but I too can say that I found the book to be moving and inspirational. Whatever Gingrich decides to do this fall, he has done the nation a great service with Rediscovering God in America.
Steven M. Warshawsky is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.
Anti-dhimmitude from the assistant bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, although of course he knows that the jihadists “don’t represent true Islam,” while also noting that trouble seems to arise when “the Koran is taught.” In any case, it remains a pity that those who, according to virtually everyone, represent true Islam seem to have left the intellectual and theological field within Islam to those who don’t. “Bishop suggests closer monitoring of mosques,” from Swissinfo, with thanks to Sr. Soph:
One of the Catholic Church’s leading experts on Islam says the Swiss authorities need to keep a closer eye on the country’s mosques.Pierre Bürcher, assistant bishop of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg, tells swissinfo it is what goes on inside mosques rather than the construction of minarets that poses a greater threat to peace.
swissinfo: You say that relations are improving at a religious level. But aren’t they constantly being undermined by global political events?
P.B.: Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue is a major challenge at the start of the 21st century and in recent decades the Catholic Church has made a priority of establishing contacts with other religions. Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor John Paul II have said this dialogue is vital for the future of our society.
At a political level, both at home and abroad in Iran and Syria, we have always been well received by the various authorities. The difficulties stem from a very small extremist fringe, which poses enormous problems but does not represent true Islam.
At the same time we now have this initiative in Switzerland against the construction of minarets, which shows there is a certain amount of extremism here as well.
swissinfo: Indeed, this initiative is clearly a reaction to the spread of Islam and Islamic law in Switzerland. Where does the Catholic Church stand on this issue?
P.B.: It is essential that we respect the laws laid down in Switzerland and we cannot allow them to be fundamentally undermined by another way of thinking, such as sharia law.
It’s true that the minaret is a symbol for Muslims but it is not an essential part of a mosque and we should not get fixated on it. What goes on inside a mosque is much more important, because it’s there that the Koran is taught and where you can have people stepping out of line. It is in this place of worship that the khutba [Islamic sermon], which is often politicised, and all the anti-Western or even terrorist teaching can take place.
Do the authorities really know what is going on and whether it is legal? This seems far more important to me than whether you can build a minaret or not.
swissinfo: So you’re saying the authorities need to keep a closer eye on what’s going on inside mosques in Switzerland?
P.B.: Yes, because one needs to be aware that in Muslim tradition, politics, culture, society and religion are all entwined. We are touching here on a fundamental difference between two religious concepts and the slightest tolerance in this domain will be extremely damaging for peace and co-existence. It is because of this that mosques in many Muslim countries are coming under increased surveillance and the khutba is always monitored.
Another example of child marriage after the pattern of Muhammad’s marriage to Aisha, and a symptom a culture that often treats women as possessions. “‘My father sold me’,” from Agence France-Presse:
Shabana, A pretty Afghan teenager with a modern haircut, was 12 years old when she was forced to marry a man 38 years her senior to settle her father’s 600-dollar gambling debt. Two years later, she is unhappy and angry. She doesn’t like her husband, 52-year-old farmer Mohammad Asef.
“He is wild – he destroyed my hopes,” she said in their humble mudbrick home in the northern province of Balkh, speaking out only when Asef went into another room to take a call. She doesn’t get on with her husband’s first wife, who is aged 42 and lives with them. And she is disgusted with her father. “He sold me,” she told AFP.
Her father and husband once farmed together, growing wheat and opium poppies on a plot in neighbouring Jawzjan province. Two years ago, after the harvest was in, Asef went to Balkh’s Mazar-i-Sharif city to visit his family. “When I came back, my father-in-law had gambled away all the harvest,” he said. “He promised me to get my money in one month but he couldn’t find it. I knew he wouldn’t because he is a very poor man. It was about 600 dollars. When he couldn’t find the money, I married his 12-year-old daughter in compensation.”
Shabana, who likes to wear jeans and read novels and newspapers, was taken out of school. Now she spends most of her time doing chores in the simple house for which Asef cannot yet afford doors. The illegal practise of exchanging girls to settle debts, including those owed to opium farmers, or to settle disputes between clans persists around the country – with the latter more common in the north. There are no statistics partly because there are no resources for collecting such data, said Ministry of Women’s Affairs legal advisor Sayed Abdul Wahab Rahmani. And in areas hit by the Taleban-led insurgency, the precarious security situation would prevent such research, he said.
About 670 women went to the ministry in the capital last year with complaints ranging from forced marriage to domestic violence, Rahmani said, by way of offering some sort of figure. The number is without doubt a fraction of the total number of cases in largely rural and destitute Afghanistan, where men hold sway and often break the law with impunity, including by marrying underage girls or using them to settle debts or feuds.
About 57 per cent of girls are married before the legal age of 16, according to statistics from the women’s ministry and women’s groups. Between 60 and 80 per cent of all marriages are believed to be ‘forced’ – a term that covers a range of practises including marrying off girls to repay debts or without their consent, according to the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. This is one of the main factors behind girls and women running away from home or committing suicide, including by setting themselves alight by dousing themselves in fuel and igniting it with a match.
In Afghanistan, as in many Asian and African cultures, men pay the family of their wives-to-be an agreed sum, sometimes called the bride price, as well as the cost of the wedding which can also run into thousands of dollars – the average in Kabul is 4,000 dollars. This can be an enormous sum in one of the poorest countries in the world where a low-grade civil servant earns about 60 dollars a month.
To be able to afford his own wife, Abdul Raheem, also from Balkh province, says he wants to marry off his 12-year-old sister as soon as he can. The family of the woman he has set his heart on wants 6,000 dollars for her. Raheem, who earns 60 dollars a month as a cleaner in a police station in Mazar, has saved 2,000 dollars. “It’s very difficult for me to find 4,000 dollars,” he said. But if he could marry off his sister, “then I can marry my girlfriend,” he told AFP.
Hamid Al-Ali is affiliated with Al-Qaeda. He also notes, in accord with the Qur’an, that “there is no nation on earth, and in the history of humanity, that is more deceitful, and false and fraudulent… than the Jewish nation.”
“Qaeda Sheikh: Jews most deceitful nation,” by Yaakov Lappin for Ynet News, with thanks to Sr. Soph:
An al-Qaeda affiliated Islamic sheikh, based in Kuwait, has released a statement addressed to the Palestinian people in which he declared that jihad is “the only way out of your crisis, you have no other.” Hamid al-Ali has been linked with forming al-Qaeda cells in Kuwait and supplying financial and ideological support for al-Qaeda across the Middle East. His communiqué forms one of a growing number of collective attempts by the global jihad movement to undermine Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as al-Qaeda attempts to gain a foothold in Gaza. In a statement posted on an al-Qaeda internet forum, al-Ali unleashed a torrent of anti-Semitic statements, saying, “There is no nation on earth, and in the history of humanity, that is more deceitful, and false and fraudulent… than the Jewish nation.””They have lied about God… and the messengers, and his angels, and have committed only sins,” he added.
Reiterating Hamas rhetoric, al-Ali declared, “The Jews do everything to head towards one goal, the Judaization of Jerusalem and the obliterate of its Islamic features, especially the al-Aqsa Mosque, to build their temple.”
“It is known that the Zionist entity has today reached its weakest form,” al-Ali said, adding: “They are tired, divided, and dispersed, and they are weak and torn… they will never be able to stop the Islamic tide exploding on them, (and that) they incurred the wrath of Allah Almighty.”
“For this we say to our people in Palestine, the Islamic Jihad is the only way out of the crisis, you have no other,” al-Ali concluded.